Just Sociology

UK Education Policies: Successes Failures and Challenges Ahead

Education policies play a crucial role in shaping the education systems of various countries. These policies are implemented with the aim of achieving certain goals, such as promoting equality of opportunity, raising standards, and increasing diversity.

In this article, we will evaluate the effectiveness of some of the education policies implemented in the United Kingdom. Specifically, we will discuss the 1944 Tripartite System,

1965 Comprehensives, the 1988 Education Act,

1997 New Labour, and 2010 Coalition and Conservative Governments.

The 1944 Tripartite System

The 1944 Education Act was an attempt to create an education system that provided equal opportunities for all children, regardless of their class or background. The act divided secondary education into three different types of schools: grammar schools, secondary moderns, and technical schools.

students would be selected for these schools based on their performance in an IQ test, and this has been viewed as a way of creating a selective education system

Grammar schools were designed for the most academically gifted students, secondary moderns for those who were not so academic, and technical schools for those students who were interested in vocational subjects. However, this system had several downsides.

The selection process created early labelling, as students were tested at a very young age, and many were incorrectly categorised. This meant that many students who were capable of succeeding academically were placed in secondary moderns, which did nothing to promote equality of opportunity.

Additionally, the system tended to accentuate class and gender inequalities. Girls were underrepresented in technical and grammar schools, and students from lower class backgrounds were often denied equal access to the best education opportunities.

1965 Comprehensives

In 1965, the comprehensive school system was introduced, which aimed to provide all children with an education that was equally good, regardless of their abilities or backgrounds. Local education authorities were allowed to introduce comprehensive schools, promoting equality of opportunity and providing a broad education that catered to all students.

However, the move to comprehensives was not universally accepted. Critics believed that comprehensive schools resulted in poor standards in schools, as students of different abilities were grouped together.

Banding and streaming were introduced to ensure that students were grouped together based on their abilities, but this led to a lack of parental choice as it was no longer possible to choose a school that was best suited to their child’s needs.

The 1988 Education Act

The 1988 Education Act brought in various new measures, with the aim of promoting market-driven reforms and competition. There was a move towards a more free market system, in which schools were encouraged to compete for students.

Marketisation became the order of the day, and parents were encouraged to make decisions about which schools to send their children to based on league tables of performance. However, this system had several drawbacks.

Selection by mortgage became common, with middle-class parents able to afford to live in areas with good schools, while pupils at schools that did not perform as well ended up missing out on available options, resulting in cream skimming. Schools that failed to perform well became trapped in a negative feedback cycle, whilst those that performed well thrived, increasing the cultural and social capital of the middle classes.

This had major implications for equality of opportunity, supported neoliberalism, and this sparked a wave of protests against this movement.

1997 New Labour

In 1997, the New Labour government launched a major campaign with the aim to improve education in the United Kingdom. This involved increased funding for education, as well as a range of measures designed to promote equality of opportunity for disadvantaged groups.

This included initiatives such as Sure Start, which aimed to provide underprivileged children with a good start in life. New Labour also aimed to raise standards, and one measure introduced was the introduction of tuition fees making university education accessible to working-class students, which led to improved access.

The education maintenance allowance provided financial support to students from low-income families to help them stay in education.

2010 The Coalition Government and the Conservative Government

The most recent period of education policy reforms took place under the Coalition Government and Conservative Governments between 2010 and 2019. These governments focused on economics and business, with an emphasis on ideologically-driven policies such as academisation, the introduction of free schools, and the pupil premium.

The argument was that these measures promoted diversity and increased standards simultaneously. Critics of this approach raised concerns that such moves would lead to widespread fragmentation, as a result of which standards would decline significantly.

Opponents also argued that these policies were aimed at further promoting the advantages of middle-class students at the expense of their less privileged peers.


The evaluation of education policies indicates that achieving equitable opportunities is a significant challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to education policy, and the policies implemented have varying degrees of success depending on the individual perspective adopted.

The history of education policy in the UK shows a struggle for equity of opportunity, and it seems that each new attempt to correct this issue throws up new set of difficulties.


The evaluation highlights the significant limitations of promoting equality of education opportunities through government intervention. The complexities of interacting factors and socio-economic dynamics mean that there are no easy solutions.

However, policymakers must continue to take bold steps to deal with this persistent problem, and the outcomes of previous policies should be analyzed, evaluated, and built upon to make things better for future generations. In conclusion, the evaluation of education policies suggests that promoting equality of educational opportunities is a complex challenge.

The policies implemented so far have been aimed at achieving this goal with varying degrees of success, and government interventions necessarily involve facing trade-offs between different goals. It is crucial that policymakers take into account the lessons of previous policies and continue to strive for equitable and effective education systems.


– What is education policy? Education policy refers to the decisions and actions taken by governments or educational institutions with the aim of shaping education systems and improving educational outcomes.

– What are some common areas of focus in education policy? Some common areas of focus in education policy include promoting equality of opportunity, raising educational standards, promoting diversity and inclusion, and facilitating access to higher education.

– What is the Tripartite System? The Tripartite System was an education policy implemented in the UK after World War II.

This system divided secondary education into three different types of schools: grammar schools, secondary moderns, and technical schools, with students being selected for each category based on their performance in an IQ test. – What were the drawbacks of the Tripartite System?

The Tripartite System was criticized for accentuating class and gender inequalities, as well as resulting in early labeling and poor opportunities for students who were not academically gifted. – What is a comprehensive school system?

A comprehensive school system is an education policy that aims to provide all students with an education of equal quality, regardless of their background or abilities. Students are not separated into different types of schools based on academic ability, and there is generally a broader range of courses and opportunities available.

– What is marketisation in education policy? Marketisation refers to the policy of promoting competition and market principles in education, such as encouraging schools to compete for students and allowing parents to choose from a range of schools based on results or rankings.

– What is the pupil premium? The pupil premium is a policy introduced in the UK to provide additional resources and support to schools for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

– What is academisation? Academisation is a policy that involves converting schools into academies, which are independent schools that are publicly funded.

The aim of academisation is to give schools greater autonomy and control over their own finances and policies.

– What is the concern regarding the effectiveness of some education policies?

The main concern regarding the effectiveness of education policies is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to promoting equitable opportunities. Policies have varying degrees of success and may face challenges related to socioeconomic dynamics, implementation, and priority conflicts.

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